All organizations should have a DEI task force. And, the task force deserves to know what problem they are trying to solve. Without precision and clarity, an organization that begins the work of addressing systemic racism without first looking at its data is probably wasting time.
Schools and nonprofits implement initiatives and programs to solve problems. Those problems typically emerge from data:
- Low attendance data leads to home visits.
- Discipline data indicates a need for restorative practices training.
- Reading scores prompt phonics intervention.
Opportunities to address racism emerge when we ask:
- Do students of different races and ethnicities have different attendance rates?
- Are students of color more likely to visit the office for a disciplinary reason than white students?
- Is there a racially identifiable group of students who struggle to read at our school?
Answers to these questions that do not first look at data will not work. At best, we’re using hunches to frame problems that require facts to understand. At worst, we’re developing solutions that exacerbate the harm. Typically, though, we’re wasting time.
To address systemic racism, we have to know how outcomes for students of color differ from white students, both as a nation and in our schools. The most straightforward way that I have seen schools frame antiracist work is to use data.
- Set a data-based rule that identifies students needing support (attendance, discipline, academic)
- Create a roster of students meeting the data-based rule, without student names and sorted by race.
- Compare the proportion of identified students to the overall demographics of your school.
Should we discover that a racially or ethnically identifiable group of students has worse outcomes than white students (both nationally and here at our school), we have an ethical and professional responsibility to act. Whatever solutions your team implements, it is essential to include those the solution is meant to serve early on. Explain what your data reveals, and share a few possible ideas. Then, seek input and revise plans based on what you hear.
Most important, begin the work with whom your data reveals are your most vulnerable students. Our students who have the most need to grow also have the most to gain. Ultimately, what we learn by effectively supporting our most vulnerable students elevates everyone.
Without data, organizations can plan book studies, attend conferences, and appoint task forces, ostensibly addressing systemic racism, all without ever knowing what must change to create equitable learning spaces in real life. Thankfully, the data you already have is almost always enough to get started.